Five Octave Range
Paul Wong, 2017
non-synced loops, colour, sound,
four channel video installation
(Commissioned by Vancouver Opera for the 2017 Vancouver Opera Festival)
This was a site-specific installation created for the Queen Elizabeth Theatre Plaza from April 27 to May 14, 2017, featuring four performers with diverse octave ranges: a baritone, tenor, coloratura soprano, and a mezzo singer were asked to demonstrate their skills for the camera. The selection of performers was a deliberate choice of professional singers from diverse backgrounds, and who also identify as queer. A primarily elitist form, the opera has a strange affect that is able to transcend its own exclusivity. Paul Wong’s experiments with opera plays on the form’s affect, digitally exaggerating and manipulating its overwhelming quality for a public space, where it can be accessed by all — the seasoned opera goer, and non-traditional audiences. Art really is more democratic than the circuit it often traverses.
I invited four opera singers to come to the studio and perform for the camera and me. They were told it would be a cappella, no rehearsals were needed, they would be recorded in front of a green screen.
The four, two men and two women were selected to provide a diverse and dynamic range: Joel Klein a baritone, Frederik a tenor, Teiya Kasahara a coloratura-soprano, and Marion Newmana mezzo-soprano singing in English, French, German, Italian, and Kwak’waka.
They were recorded in a very live-sounding industrial warehouse space. Each artist did a warm-up for the camera and then performed a signature, conventional piece of opera from their repertoire that best highlighted their vocal range. In addition, they each performed a piece that they most liked or identified with.
The performers were aware of my intended experimental approach. I was not interested in representing a song or literal performance. My interest is in playing with vocal and visual gestures, repetition, decay, resonance, motion, mashing, and mixing.
This work is created in the editing process. Listening to the sound of the vocalizations and rhythms and looking at the gestures and the camera’s framing of the performers told me what to do and where to go with the sound and images. It’s a visceral response. I am not a trained musician nor am I all that familiar with opera. I just know what I like. The voice is a magical instrument and these performers are finely tuned.
This work is created as a site-specific piece that will be presented outdoors on the Queen Elizabeth Theatre Plaza. It will be presented as a multiscreen video installation on four round screens; these portals will provide viewers access to an up-close experience with opera. It is a series of non-synchronized video and sound loops that will create their own relationships. Much like jazz, it is freeform and abstract.
Five Octave Range is made possible thanks to a generous grant from The McGrane – Pearson Endowment Fund.